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New Virginia moms need critical emotional support after COVID-19 pandemic

Welcoming a new baby is supposed to be one of the happiest times of our lives. But for many women, that joy is overshadowed by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

NORFOLK, Va. — Chi’Mere Edgerton says she wasn’t feeling like herself after her daughter, Harmony, was born in 2018.

"I wasn't functioning. I was, like, just going through life like a zombie," said Edgerton. "You know, like, how you see a person walking down the stairs? Internally, I was going down the stairs like that."

She didn't immediately associate her feelings with postpartum depression, or PPD.

"You have this one... picture [of PPD]," said Edgerton. "It was like all the stories that we saw on the news. Women going out, hurting their children, or they [are] just really depressed."

But PPD is common and treatable. It's one of a wide range of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or PMADs.

"The 'perinatal' piece is important because that covers people during pregnancy and postpartum," said Kristen Miller, regional program director and peninsula coordinator of the nonprofit group Postpartum Support Virginia (PSVa).

"Our main mission... [is] that every birthing person in the State of Virginia is made aware of PMADs... that they are screened for [them], and that they have access to be able to have those resources for treatment that they need," said Miller.

She said some common symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders include sleeping too much or too little, being too hands-on or hands-off with the baby, or excessive crying.

PSVa recently co-conducted a survey with Nurture RVA to assess the COVID-19 pandemic's emotional impact on new and expectant Virginia moms. 

Of the more than 700 responses, nearly 70% noted a lack of social interaction. More than half said they had insufficient mental health support.

"Before the pandemic, we saw the same high needs," said Miller. "Once the pandemic hit, a lot of those things stopped... very abruptly. So, people no longer had access to any of those services."

The group concluded that the same emotional needs of these mothers pre-COVID could have more devastating impacts today, if not addressed.

"There can be outcomes for not only the birthing person, but also their infant, their partners -- we know that partners can also be affected by PMADs -- as well as extended family," said Miller.

Postpartum Support Virginia is working to expand accessibility to services like support groups statewide, calling attention to the difference it made for moms like Edgerton.

"These women right here, they went through it just the same," said Edgerton. "Once you realize you're not alone, then you realize, 'Ok, I can do this. I can just take one step at a time, walk through it.'... And before you know it, you're gradually getting back to yourself."

Miller says some common symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders include sleeping too much or too little, being too hands-on or hands-off with the baby, or excessive crying.

If you or someone you know may need help, visit Postpartum Support Virginia's website or call the group's 24/7 warm line at 703-829-7152.